What Did We Learn From Paul Isom’s Feud with East Carolina U. As Case Closes?

Instead of being fired, Paul Isom, has now resigned from his position as student media director at East Carolina University, a change in tune and an opportunity to reflect on what we all learned from this ordeal that began in January.

Courtesy:The Reflector

All who were hoping Paul Isom would re-gain his job as student media director at East Carolina University can forget about that notion.

As of Friday, Isom has officially “resigned” from his position overseeing The East Carolinian, the newspaper that ran photos of a streaker who took the field during halftime at a East Carolina University football game last November.

In a post here last month, I shared comments from Isom’s address about the ordeal given during the 2012 AEJMC Southeast Colloquium at Virginia Tech.

“I was fired in retaliation for an editorial decision, students made,” Isom said in the March 9 keynote address.

Following several weeks of negotiations with East Carolina officials, my former University of Alabama colleague has changed his tune.

A joint statement crafted by lawyers for both Isom and ECU even included a nice quote that, at least on the surface, makes it appear the story had an OK resolution.  Isom received  $31,200, which is the cost of health insurance and salary for six months at his former rate of pay.

“This allows us all to get on with our lives, without having to drag this out indefinitely,” Isom said in the statement released Friday.  “I truly enjoyed my time at ECU. The students were eager to learn, and were always very professional.”

So What Did We Learn?

1. Don’t Jump to Conclusions

First Amendment and student expression advocates like myself should better investigate cases before jumping to conclusions right?

I suppose that’s why the Society of Professional of Journalists (SPJ) and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)   were slow to jump on the bandwagon defending Isom.

2. Things Are Not Always What They Appear

Despite the nice statement released Friday, my guess is there is a lot more to this case than the general public will ever know.   Sometimes some things are best handled behind closed doors, a hard pill for those of us in journalism to swallow.

Maybe Paul Isom’s case was not the test case that we all thought it would be for how media advisers should fight the good fight for their students, at all costs.

3. New Direction for ECU Student Media Will Be Revealed Over Time

I guess we should take ECU officials at their word.  In Friday’s statement, they reiterated that Isom’s (now) resignation was part of their effort to “take student journalism at The East Carolinian in a new direction.”

4. Isom’s Issues Present A Case Study To Be Reviewed for Years To Come

In spite of all that’s been said about Paul Isom’s case, the convincing arguments he made for why a school like ECU would take the action that it did are noteworthy.

I know I’ll be referring to the video from Isom’s address on my YouTube Channel from time to time.

Those of us who teach journalism have a duty to examine such issues as we socialize new publication staffs into their role as watchdog journalists in a culture where the relationship between university officials and student journalists is antagonistic.

What Will It Take To Bring Paul Isom’s Case at East Carolina U. Back to the Media Spotlight?

Paul Isom made his case to attendees at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium at Virginia Tech Friday. Now it’s up to AEJMC and SPJ to take another look at the free expression issues in this matter.

It’s been nearly four months since a streaker took the field during halftime at a East Carolina University football game and photos of the incident were published in The East Carolinian, ECU’s student newspaper.

Just a little more than two months ago, Paul Isom, the University’s student media director was removedfrom his position.

In a 25-minute address to attendees at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium Friday at Virginia Tech, Paul Isom told of his termination as director of student media at East Carolina University.

The decision sparked a flurry of media reports around the country, especially among those of us in journalism circles, who are advocates for student free expression.

Probably not a moment too soon for East Carolina University, the media publicity of this case has subsided to barely a mention.

Continue reading “What Will It Take To Bring Paul Isom’s Case at East Carolina U. Back to the Media Spotlight?”

What Ousted Newspaper Adviser Paul Isom Needs to Say To Journalism Professors Friday at Va. Tech

Paul Isom, will address the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium on Friday, March 9, 2012

Courtesy:The Reflector

His removal as newspaper adviser at East Carolina University’s student newspaper earlier this year made national headlines while unifying scores of journalism professors who came to his defense.

Now Paul Isom will face many of his colleagues in one of his first big public addresses since he was forced to step down on Jan. 4 from his position with The East Carolinian.

Isom will be the keynote luncheon speaker at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

It’s not clear what he will focus on during his March 9 address, but the platform before several dozen journalism and mass communication professors from across the South will give him a chance to talk about the decision the students at The East Carolinian made to print photos of a streaker at a Nov. 5 football game.

Despite calls from organization such as the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) that asked Isom be re-instated,  the University was not persuaded and Isom’s successor, Frank Barrows, a veteran journalist was appointed as interim adviser.

Isom is a personal friend having worked with me in a previous position as director of student media at University of Alabama.

So it was kind of exciting to see someone I know become the FACE OF THE CAMPAIGN FOR COLLEGIATE FIRST AMENDMENT EXPRESSION.

Here are some guidelines for Isom’s speechwriter for what should be included in his address this Friday:

1. The Problem of Adviser Firings is NOT NEW.  

Isom ought to put his removal into context of recent firings at other institutions.   He might consult Prof KRG’s summary of some of those cases.

We on the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) National Board have a case come to us at least once a semester.  My friend and colleague, Frank LoMonte at the Student Press Law Center, would probably say collegiate newspaper issues represent one of SPLC’s biggest categories of cases.

After all the controversy erupted, East Carolina University released a statement saying its decision to fire Isom  was based on a “personnel matter” and not a First Amendment issue.

2. It’s NOT ABOUT ME!   The Big Issue is Student Expression

When we talk about the Isom firing,  we have to constantly remember that it’s not about the personality involved.  Rather, as journalism and mass communication instructors, we have to be the biggest advocates for our students to recognize and defend their First Amendment rights, even if they are making a decision with which we as advisers might disagree.

3.  Keeping One’s Personnel File Clean Is Essential, Especially for Journalism Professor and Media Advisers

If you’ve advising student media, all kinds of excuses can be made, strategies taken to remove you if the student media you’re advising publishes or broadcasts something controversial.

4.  Our Students Are Watching (and Listening ) To Us  When WE Try to Tell Them What is Right

Even though Paul Isom is no longer advising The East Carolinian, he has retained his position as a member of the East Carolina faculty.  His credibility ought to be even higher now because he stood up for what was right for his students.

5.  I’m Considering Legal Action, Here are the Issues

Certainly Isom won’t tell us whether he’s planning to fight for his job in a court of law.   But,  when these kinds of cases come up, are the advisers always the ones who should grin and take it?   Or, should we take our fight to the extreme?

If Isom doesn’t talk about all of these issues during his address at the 12:45 p.m luncheon Friday in the Latham Ballroom at Va. Tech’s Skelton Conference Center, he will certainly face more questions during a panel discussion that will immediately follow.

This will be certainly one academic conference where a little news might be made.

Maybe Isom will announce he has a new job.

Maybe he’ll engage some journalism professors who will criticize him for his decision.

Maybe we’ll find out that East Carolina University is about to be cast into even more negative light?

Whatever happens, it should be a very interesting afternoon.. and I’m excited to be among those planning to be in the audience.